In my last article about my not so brilliant Buddhist life I came across the problem of whether it shows one is a Buddhist, or whether it should show. I know some people may be proud of their Buddhist history and attainments and certificates and what not, but as far as I know, authentic Buddhist teachers want us not to show any trace of our Buddhist experience or history, at least in our everyday actions, unless someone asks us about Buddhism and our experience, of course. But if it is obvious that you are a Buddhist based on the way you talk, walk, drink, eat or sleep, then something is wrong.
I would say there are basically two ways to understand the meaning of Buddhism and I am sure one is wrong and one is right. One way is to understand that our Buddhist practice has to bring results and these results show in the way we act, speak, etc. Typically, a Buddhist, according to this understanding, is never angry, is always compassionate, patient, talks slowly and clearly, no matter what, eats carefully and completely, sleeps perfectly, makes only wise decisions and is very tolerant of people who make mistakes. These people, ideally, are also enlightened, which is understood as knowing all about the universe, self and others and having absolutely no problems to worry about. This understanding of Buddhism is based on some kind of misinterpretation of original Buddha's teaching. I am aware that in some traditions practitioners are encouraged to act and live like the ideal person above, but I still maintain that such understanding is not actual Buddha's teaching.
The other understanding is very different and it is the understanding that was passed on by modern teachers like Kodo Sawaki, Shunryu Suzuki, Nishijima roshi, and current teachers like Brad Warner or Mike Luetchford. It says something I would sum up, using Brad Warner's words, as "Don't be a jerk and just do what you're doing now." There are many, many ways to sum up this teaching, but you can never completely define this teaching, because it is essentially perfectly open. It is perfectly open to reality of our lives, be it dark , bright or strange. Don't be a jerk doesn't mean Stop getting angry, stop wanting that vintage car, stop criticizing your sister or stop making mistakes when speaking French. Don't be a jerk means Are you absolutely sure that it is necessary to get angry now? Are you absolutely sure that you absolutely want that Versace coat? Are you absolutely sure that your sister is a threat to the world peace and happiness? And the answer, of a sincere Buddhist, could be: I am not sure, but I just got angry. I am not sure I need that car, but I really like it. So the point is making efforts to act in accord with reality, but that effort includes the truth that we are imperfect human beings and we will never become a perfect human being, or a perfect buddha. The thing is that the so called "Buddha"is not a finished, complete, brilliant person. The thing called Buddha is not as much a person as a state of things. It is a balance of things that may hit us from time to time and that Buddha thing goes through our body and mind, hits it and it shows. But the way it shows is transparent, so nobody can really notice. The only thing we can notice about the moment when Buddha goes through our body and mind, is that we don't feel strange, we don't feel messed up, upset, upside down, on the contrary, everything seems settled. Or nicely open. And we often simply don't notice at all. Anyway, noticing or not, at that moment we and the universe is one thing. This is a situation, not a person. And this situation is called buddhas, it is called masters, it is called awakening, it is called dharma, it is called the truth, it is called brilliant. It has been praised by our ancestors for centuries. This Buddha state was probably first noticed by Gautama or at least clearly analysed and described by Gautama, and it was later called "enlightenment". But this very label absolutely messed up the original meaning of awakening. Instead of situation, the situation was called a finished person. Instead of watching flowers bloom, people followed Buddha Gautama's brilliant words. They followed his words, his actions, his decisions, his understanding, but because people do not always understand their teacher completely and usually misunderstand their teacher from time to time and often misunderstand the teaching completely, the whole of Buddhist teaching that Gautama established changed from teaching a situation to teaching people to become so called buddhas. Since then thousands of people have tried hard to become buddhas to no avail. Some of them became idols, gurus, famous leaders, but frankly, they have become something they actually did not want to be initially. Or maybe they never wanted to find out what buddha really means and that it is a perfectly open situation.
So in my last article I mentioned all kinds of problems I have in my life. There is basically nothing special people could notice about me and if they do notice something they can say it is my character or my genes, not my Buddhist efforts. If you have practiced zazen for twenty years, have been to dozens of sesshins and your colleagues are absolutely shocked when you tell them you are a Buddhist, that is not something to be alarmed about. That is not something to reflect upon. Because the situation when Buddha goes through your body and mind and the state is open and transparent, is nothing other people can easily notice. On the other hand, Kodo Sawaki said something like if you practice zazen correctly, it will show in your family... This is a very complicated matter. In a way, it is true. If you practice zazen and there is no balance or clarity in your life, I mean if you just see absolutely no balance at all and you are as confused and angry as in the past and you hate the same people with the same vigour, then I would say Kodo Sawaki is right, there must be a loose screw somewhere. But still, if you become a more balanced person and you stop doing certain crazy things, what do you think others will notice? Nothing, to them, you will be a normal person and they will see nothing Buddhist about you. Only you know that you stopped doing that crazy thing you used to do. Only you know that you don't run around at night and don't break things out of desperation any more. Only you know that you have learned to notice the beauty of golden leaves in October. Only you know how you feel in zazen, how the mental burden melts and how you smile again and again despite your problems. Only you know these very intimate things. Many people are not Buddhists and are naturally balanced, wise and see flowers and clouds and hear birds chirping. I am not saying we all have to practice zazen, otherwise we cannot meet the Buddha state. On the contrary, it is the most natural thing to meet buddhas for every being in the universe and every thing in the universe. To meet the Buddha is the first and last thing that happens in the universe. It is the situation that is happening right now everywhere in the universe. So it is so obvious and clear that many people just do not notice. It is natural to have that state many times a day. So becoming a Buddhist you learn what our original state is, not how to become very different. So of course, it is not something that should shine or strike others. If it shines at all, its simplicity shines. If you think a teacher is an old buddha, it is because he or she doesn't add much to what he or she originally is. But many people are this natural and themselves, without having to study and practice Buddhism. We, who practice zazen and study Buddhism, do not do it in order to become great or better than others, we do it because we came across authentic Dharma, were hit by the clarity of its teaching and we cannot go away any more. Because we have experienced the simplicity of zazen, we practice zazen and we don't care if others notice or not. We make efforts not in order to become great people but because we just see no other option. We make efforts because we realized that it is the only way to live our lives. We may be called idiots, silly, crazy, lazy or whatever, still, we cannot stop making efforts. Some people will notice, some people will not notice. That doesn't matter. I like to compare our Buddhist efforts to trees in the woods. They make efforts all the time. Do other trees notice? Do birds notice? Who praises trees? Who certifies a tree? Who asks a tree questions? Yet, a tree will be a tree, making efforts to be a tree no matter what. Floods, wildfires, woodcutters, builders may come...
To be a human being is a very interesting situation. And we are not so different from trees. Trees are naturally different from other trees. They don't try to stand out. Still, you can notice a pine over there or a birch here is very different from the other trees. The difference has happened naturally. So as people we can concentrate on our everyday lives and not worry about others criticizing us, ignoring us or praising us. Being a human itself is a wonderful situation. It is wonderful enough, don't you think?